Making the connection

It is one thing to encourage employees to interact more flexibly by giving them a collection of collaboration tools; it is another challenge altogether to provide a set of tools that talk to each other seamlessly.

Much of that stems from the piecemeal growth of collaboration facilities. As new technologies appear – corporate instant messaging and voice-over-IP are two recent examples – organisations want those capabilities folded into existing suites. For the more mature vendors – especially those offering collaboration enviro-nments as a service over the Internet – that inte-gration has been a top priority. But in many cases, there are plenty of missing pieces in vendors' collaboration toolkits and plenty of disjoined aspects to the collaboration experience.

"At the moment, collaboration tools are largely a bag of things you can do, rather than being a genuinely integrated toolset," says Chris Harris-Jones, an analyst at IT market watcher Ovum. However, he predicts that fully integrated toolsets are starting to take shape and should be in place within the next few years.

The situation is mirrored within many user organisations. Specific collaboration technologies have been adopted by departments or even individual teams and IT organisations are now trying to bring some coordination to that – for cost reasons as well as to ensure such ad hoc collaboration does not conflict with regulatory demands. Compliance issues are particularly pronounced at some financial services companies, where instant messaging has quickly grown in popularity among traders and brokers.

The current situation also means that when selecting a portfolio of collaborative software, organisations often augment their suite of choice with specific best-of-breed tools. In a sector where interoperability standards are only just getting off the ground that often requires an extensive integration effort – and one that has to be revisited every time a point product is added or the suite is upgraded.

Increasingly, though, the act of collaboration is in itself not isolated from other activities. Many organisations want to integrate collaboration capabilities into business processes as part of a move away from an application-centric view of IT.

In this context, "the growing use of service-oriented architecture (SOA) is very valuable," says Harris-Jones. "A lot of collaboration tools are already modular and have some web services access points" allowing their use to be just a step in a wider process.

George Parapadakis, solutions architect at content manage-ment vendor FileNet, sees that real-time collab-oration will be part of workflow: "We don't see collaboration as something separate, it is part and parcel of the overall service."

And that heralds a move to collaboration functionality within applications: "By embedding collaboration tools within existing web-based browsers, no software needs loading onto desktop PCs," says Nigel Jones, business development manager at communications provider Alcatel. "On top of this, the user does not need to learn any new applications, as the communications features are an applet within their main business application window," he adds.

The upshot will be more fluid collaboration. "If, say, instant messaging is the initial thread of a real-time collaboration session then the users need the ability to progress from an IM session to full multi-party audio conferencing, with comprehensive document or application sharing – perhaps even video in future cases," he says Harris-Jones. And that is never going to be realised without a seamlessly integrated collaboration environment.




Shared diary services for scheduling meetings and events.

Content management

Facilities for creating, sharing and workflowing business documents. The area is increasingly influenced by compliance legislation.


The original and most widely used digital collaboration tool, email is limited by the asynchronous nature of its communication.

Instant messaging

The real-time, text-based, ‘peer-to-peer' communication tool opens a thread of continuous exchanges, and can be more effective than sending emails back and forth. However, in order for it to work, all users must be ‘present' and all willing to engage in a discussion. Security and compliance issues surrounding consumer IM tools have led many companies to adopt corporate IM alternatives.

IP telephony

A general term used to describe the exchange of packets of voice data traffic over the network, rather than via a dedicated circuit connection – an invaluable part of collaboration that adds voice to other parts of web conferencing and into business applications, using an Internet protocol network.


The application, document and file sharing environment boasts both asynchronous and synchronous features to facilitate collective working. Presence The ability to see if other users, generally on a pre-selected list, are online concurrently. Status can be changed and preferred contact method chosen.

Shared workspaces

This category is included in applications such as groupware, file sharing, collaborative project portfolio management software, and content services.

Video conferencing

The bandwidth-intensive tool has traditionally been used in dedicated multimedia rooms, but the ubiquity of bandwidth and better compression has made PC-to-PC video conferencing a reality. Seeing others in an online meeting is said to aid interpretation, but low picture quality, configuration problems and bandwidth costs can be prohibitory to adoption.

Web conferencing

Online, shared meeting facilities run over the Internet using either locally installed software or as a service. Facilities can include most collaboration tools.


An emerging technology for creating a web-based knowledge store which any user can add to or edit. Wiki vendors argue that such web pages often replace group emails for company announcements.


A collaboration capability that enables freehand drawing and writing with a pen-based device, commonly used for training purposes.



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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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